I AM FUEL, YOU ARE FRIENDS

...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fuel Favorites of 2007

For each year so far that I've been dabbling in this music-blog-writing hobby, there seems to be a greater proliferation of choices for my ears to make. It seems like more artists are making their voices heard, more albums getting out there in one form or another, more people being turned on to music outside the mainstream 35 songs you hear on the radio.

This is good news for ears, hearts, and souls, and bad news for listmakers.

After much struggling, I've picked out ten albums that I'm happy with being my favorites from 2007; add all of these to your collections and be happy too. There were some very good albums that I left off this year (I am sure you will point them out to me in the comments) but these 10 are the ones that connected with me uniquely and viscerally. And they're listed in alphabetical order because even numerically ranking them defeated me.

If you would like to hear me talk more about these albums, and discuss my perspective as a music blogger in the digital music world in 2007, please tune in to NPR's World Cafe on January 1st. I'll be doing a piece with David Dye, Tom Moon from NPR and Marco Werman from BBC's "The World" program.

And yes . . . this is my poker face. I'm doing little freakout backflips on the inside.


TEN FUEL FAVORITES OF 2007

BECAUSE OF THE TIMES
Kings of Leon

Folks complain that this album isn't as loose and rough and gut-punch raw as earlier KOL efforts, and they're right. This album is bigger and hazier and more anthemic, but I find myself craving the riffs, the melody, the scowly drawl of the lyrics, and the unabashed rock. I agree with the fantastic Daytrotter piece that called this one "a sneaker" (as in it sneaks up on you, not a shoe). I like that KOL are experimenting with their sound and pushing the edges. Plus, they absolutely have the best live show I saw (twice) this year, all caged energy, confident strut and rock and roll.
Fans - Kings of Leon


BOXER
The National

This is the richest album in my top ten this year, in that the songs seep under your skin and percolate slowly. As we discussed, so much of this is 4am music; the late-night special, flawed but transcendent. Woven through songs that pulse restlessly with thumping drums, elegiac strings and evocative piano melodies, the lyrics here destroy me. Absolutely. They lament "another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults," then ruefully note that "we’re so disarming darling, everything we did believe is diving diving diving diving off the balcony / Tired and wired we ruin too easy, sleep in our clothes and wait for winter to leave." The purity of elemental urges and gorgeous expression makes me wants to live inside the stories of this album.
Fake Empire - The National


DIRTY BOMB
The Star Spangles

Here to save the rock and roll crown from the hands of slicker entries this year, The Star Spangles from New York are filthy and gritty and raw, making pub-chant punk with strong melodies. Full of heart, they are the real deal so don't mess with their work ethic. In addition to playing roughly 3,528 fiery live shows this year, they're not above doing things like playing a recent show at the Jesse Malin/Ryan Adams hangout Niagara in NYC wearing only a trenchcoat and a fedora (all the better to rock with less friction, I guess). Listen to this vibrant album loud, and feel the ebullient crush of youth.
Take Care of Us - The Star Spangles


FIGHTING TREES
The Swimmers
The owner of some trusted ears remarked upon first hearing this Philly band that "this is what Wilco might sound like if they just let their popness run rampant." Fighting Trees is a shimmering, delicious, intelligent album full of pop goodness but not too sugary-sweet. It's got the jangle and the thump, the three-part harmonies and the cohesive storyline lyrics that sweep me off to somewhere else; they weave a dream-sequence where you are floating above yourself, watching the actions below with a distanced eye. Loosely based around the 1964 short story "The Swimmer," both the grad-school premise and the resulting album deserve massive props.
[stream here, buy CD at shows, out via Mad Dragon in early 2008]
Heaven - The Swimmers


GOOD AND RECKLESS AND TRUE
The Alternate Routes

In a year when I was really hoping for a grand, rootsy, golden album from Ryan Adams that never materialized for me, The Alternate Routes warmed the speakers of my car all summer long with their expansive, windows-down, wholeheartedly good brand of alt-country rock. One of my favorite lyrical pictures all year comes from these opening notes: "I've been wasting my days good and reckless and true, I have danced in the dark at the edge of the water, swingin my hips at the black and the blue..." The songwriting is solid and incisive, highlighted by the aching tenor of lead singer Tim Warren -- and speaking of Ryan Adams, current Cardinals drummer Brad Pemberton pitches in on the skins here as well. Although the album swings effortlessly from rollicking to pensive, the common thread that I find appealing is the earnest commitment to simply playing their blessed hearts out.
Ordinary - The Alternate Routes


THE HISTORICAL CONQUESTS OF JOSH RITTER
Josh Ritter

A pal recently asked me who I thought the best modern-day songwriter was. At the time it was 2am, and I mumbled something about how I thought Josh Ritter was pretty dang incredible. Upon coherent reflection, I take that back; I think Josh absolutely may be the best songwriter of our generation that I've heard. His penetrating lyrics consistently blow me away, and the rock influences of his new album ramp up the folk sounds I've loved in the past into something that definitely hits harder and leaves me all itchy and excited-like. You must see him live in 2008, the new material is amazing in concert. As Josh weaves his intricate, literate songs on stage, he overflows with each lyric as if he were birthing every line afresh for the first time. That same refreshing joy is palpable on this album, and we are grateful for it.
To The Dogs or Whoever - Josh Ritter


I CAN'T GO ON, I'LL GO ON
T
he Broken West
When I first heard this new Merge Records signing last January, my post title was "I want to listen to The Broken West all weekend long, maybe until my eardrums crystallize into sugar." That pretty much sums up how vividly I crave the sounds on this disc. Catchy hooks and fuzzy power-pop sounds blend with a blast straight from the '60s in terms of sheer listenability -- and you're having 100% Fun with Matthew Sweet while the Kinks play in your garage. Hailing from Los Angeles, the guys in the Broken West wrap up all kinds of California imagery while also underscoring a bit of the shadow as well: "Sun down, blood horizon, now it feels all right/ No one feels the darkness down in the valley tonight." Musical novocaine.
Down In The Valley - The Broken West


NIGHTTIMING
Coconut Records

This clever, humble, and thoroughly enjoyable album from Coconut Records (the nom de rock of actor Jason Schwartzman) came out of absolutely nowhere this year in a stealth digital-only release that spread like wildfire. Normally we can all agree that actors making music spells disaster, but in this case it absolutely spells y-a-y. Schwartzman blends some of the jangly California indie-pop of his previous work with Phantom Planet with his experience in composing film scores for this aural delight. No two tracks alike: the Weezer rock of "Back To You" flips over the lo-fi duet on "Mama" (with Zooey Deschanel?) and the scratchy dabble into Beatles pop with "Easy Girl" is a million miles from the disco beats of the title track or the Franz Ferdinand stomp on "Minding My Own Business." The album is eclectic, stripped of pretension and ready to make you smile.
Back To You - Coconut Records


THE REMINDER
Feist

The completely charming and effortlessly cool Leslie Feist covers a lot of ground on this album, her third of original solo material, in addition to her releases with the Broken Social Scene. Feist is musically adventurous with a sound that is impossible to pin down. Moving easily from intimate songs like "The Park" that aches like a midnight dirge sung lying flat, looking out a darkened window, to the spiritual-gospel handclap community of "Sea Lion Woman," you never know what the next track will bring. The only common thread among the songs is her gorgeously honey-drenched, knowingly sly voice. Feist possesses a welcome imaginative streak that she’s not afraid to reveal on this album. She deserves every ounce of recognition that Apple commercial got her in 2007; anyone who conceives of the idea to do a rainbow-hued dance video clothed in spangles to a song that good gets my respect. I wait in breathless anticipation to see what she does next.
My Moon, My Man - Feist


WE BELONG TO THE STAGGERING EVENING
Ike Reilly Assassination

Call it defiant pre-punk, cranked-up '50s rock'n'roll that slipped past the censors, or just some seriously good music. Ike Reilly writes unflinching rock songs full of bluesy, boozy, humid, rock riffs and intelligent, biting, evocative lyrics that make me want to take off with him through the desert on the run from the cops, the windows down and a knowing glance between us. Ike's not ripping off a halcyon era of memories past like some of the retro-influenced acts today (Brian Setzer, I love you, but I'm talking to you), but rather he feels like an earnest, fierce character who somehow slipped in from a time when the music was rawer, the sex was furtive, and the liquor was bootlegged. This is a fiercely fantastic album that provocatively edged itself into my top ten the first time I listened to it.
Valentine's Day in Juarez - Ike Reilly


And yes, since you asked, my membership in the bloggers guild is currently under review for revocation for not listening to Arcade Fire or Radiohead in 2007. I'll keep you posted.

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40 Comments:

At December 15, 2007 11:42 PM, Blogger Chad said...

Good list, definitely. And you're the only music blogger besides myself who put Coconut Records on their top records list...which makes us both geniuses. :)

And also: CONGRATS on the NPR gig - that's the coolest thing I've heard all year!

 
At December 16, 2007 12:16 AM, Blogger Kristy said...

One of the reasons I love reading your blog is because I learn about new musicians and what albums to buy. So far I have bought two albums from this list and will surely buy more. Awesome job on this list. : )

And I am SO excited about the NPR gig that I've been mentioning it in a namedropping way to all my friends. Yay!

 
At December 16, 2007 6:14 AM, Anonymous russell said...

In our house we didn't listen to Radiohead or Arcade Fire either.

'Freakout backflips' is that a new coinage? It certainly hits the spot.Its good to hear somebody else is mentally somersaulting in the cage in high pressure situations.

 
At December 16, 2007 8:30 AM, Blogger Tonya said...

Heather, bless you girl. I had not heard of the Alternate Routes until this very moment. As soon as I put down this computer, I"m going to the record store. I must have it. Nice list.

 
At December 16, 2007 9:33 AM, Blogger Kevin lives in said...

David Dye and NPR
talk about scoring the ticket!
cha-ching!
cha-ching!
cha-ching!
(the sound of those little freakout backflips)
congrats!

 
At December 16, 2007 9:41 AM, Blogger Asian Kid A said...

found you by way of Best Music Blogs on Hey Nielsen. looking forward to reading more in the future. congrats on NPR

 
At December 16, 2007 10:00 AM, Blogger -tom said...

Nice job on making World Cafe !
Can't wait to hear it.

Radiohead won't be making my list either.

 
At December 16, 2007 10:18 AM, Blogger Droll SteVan said...

Nice picks for 2007. Check out this song I found online... ignore the video...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W6hmqlL7Ko

 
At December 16, 2007 10:27 AM, Anonymous Darnell said...

The Radiohead and Arcade Fire releases are NOT bandwagon albums. They are excellent ones . Same is true for Panda Bear, Andrew Bird, Phosphorescent, Wilco,& Spoon. Not recognizing greatness is a shame.

 
At December 16, 2007 10:34 AM, Blogger heather said...

Darnell, I didn't say I hadn't listened to them because they were bandwagon albums. I just haven't listened to them or gotten into them...too busy? not interested? and was poking fun at myself for not including them on my list like every other blogger in the whole world. Don't misunderstand me, they are likely very good albums.

 
At December 16, 2007 10:44 AM, Blogger boyhowdy said...

A sweet list indeed -- nice choices, as always.

The NPR gig sounds semi-regular -- if it is, let me be the first to not just congratulate you, but also to commend you for your ability to write coherently about it. If it were me, I'd be in "squeeeeee" mode, for sure.

 
At December 16, 2007 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather -

Congrats on your NPR gig. I liked your list except for no M.I.A. "Paper Planes" might be my favorite song of the year.

- Neil

 
At December 16, 2007 2:47 PM, Anonymous Big Scott said...

Just wanted to stop by and say how much I enjoy this blog. Great list, great blog. Don't feel too bad about leaving Neon Bible off, it's half great, half below average (roughly). The Radiohead disc is great though.

 
At December 16, 2007 7:57 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

Great to hear you'll be on World Cafe! You belong up there for sure! Also, you're so right to omit those two CDs this year. ;-) Is cool!

 
At December 16, 2007 8:27 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

coconut records?
ewwww.
Not as an album of the year. I'm still waiting for the album of the year from his former band Phantom Planet.

and what about Iron & Wine?

 
At December 16, 2007 9:06 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Best short review of Feist I've read. I may steal it when I do my list... Congrats on the NPR-age, I'll be in the car on the 1st so I'll certainly be tuned in! I have to agree with everyone else I'd be bouncing around like crazy if I had an NPR gig ahead of me.

All my best,

Steve

 
At December 16, 2007 9:21 PM, Anonymous mrbojangles said...

I like your words...

I hate your tunes!

 
At December 17, 2007 6:53 AM, Anonymous Anne said...

I always enjoys seeing your picks and love that your list is different from so many other bloggers. The only surprise for me is that you didn't include the soundtrack to Into the Wild since you are such an Eddie Vedder fan.

 
At December 17, 2007 7:32 AM, Blogger Kyle Meredith said...

sometimes i think that you're the female version of me. then i think, "that's ludicrous. i must be the male version of her."

;-) fantastic list. looking forward to a 2008 where you're still showing all of us what we're missing.

 
At December 17, 2007 8:52 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

Good and Reckless and True was certainly a fun album - I never thought to connect it to Ryan Adams at all - there is some similarities there. Really good start for them - let's hope that their follow up is just as good.

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter also made my best of list - that was a great album this year too.

 
At December 17, 2007 9:26 AM, Blogger Jason Warburg said...

Oh crap this post is going to cost me a lot of money... ;-)

 
At December 17, 2007 9:30 AM, Blogger Jason Warburg said...

P.S. And huge congrats on the NPR gig -- you SO deserve it!

 
At December 17, 2007 10:58 AM, Anonymous Darnell said...

You did put the National on your list. That is in my top 5 for sure. I also kept Arcade Fire off my top 10. While good, it isn't as good as I was hoping for. Radiohead's In Rainbows, on the other hand, is just great. Menomena's Friend & Foe was another gem this year. Oh, and Panda Bear of course.

 
At December 17, 2007 11:52 AM, Blogger John Smith said...

I actually like this list. That is the best compliment you will ever receive.

 
At December 17, 2007 3:15 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

I just picked up the Ike Reilly Assassination album today. How did I miss this?

 
At December 17, 2007 3:46 PM, Blogger MarkZorro said...

For quite a long time I was quite a Neanderthal when it came to an appreciation of the arts, and whether it is this site or the one Sean Coon has produced at the dotmatrixproject, I am getting a fast-track education across music genre's and simply put, it is adding something new to my intelligence.

More the reason now that I see issues such as music education in schools a critical rather than an elite issue. I am still learning but blogs like yours are opening my eyes to new ways of viewing and appreciating music.

M.

 
At December 17, 2007 4:11 PM, Anonymous Karina said...

Feist, Coconut Records, Kings of Leon, those I definitely agree on. Can't say the same about the others since I haven't really listened to them... but I will now. :)

My favorite albums of the year (I don't know if they're the best, but they're the ones I played non-stop) were
-Wilco's Sky Blue Sky
-NIN's Year Zero
-Into the Wild Soundtrack
-White Stripes' Icky Thump
-Bright Eyes' Cassadaga
-Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
-BRMC's Baby 81
-Interpol's Our Love To Admire

 
At December 17, 2007 6:28 PM, Blogger Dodge said...

way to be yourself! congrats on the NPR gig you saucy minx!

 
At December 17, 2007 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One shouldn't disagree with a top 10 list, because it's all so subjective, but I appreciate how genuine and unique your list is compared to the others out there. I hope Easy Tiger and the Hottest State soundtrack weren't too far off your list, though. And I do agree with the others about Radiohead and Panda Bear, but I know those just aren't your usual style. Also great: Eluvium's Copia, Meg Baird's Dear Companion, Tom Brosseau's Cavalier, Seabear's The Ghost That Carried Us Away and Rufus Wainwright's Release the Stars.

 
At December 18, 2007 8:30 AM, Anonymous JoJo said...

Poker face indeed!!! I always listen to that program. Kudos Heather! I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Here's to more wonderful music in the New Year!

Cheers!

 
At December 18, 2007 12:12 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Some fine choices! Always glad to see a good word for the Alt. Routes -- eric Donnelley's uncle is a good friend of mine (plus their music is great). And Josh Ritter rules!

 
At December 18, 2007 8:46 PM, Blogger lbc said...

Congratulations Heather, that's a well-deserved honor! Your next career move could be soundtrack producer, like Nik Harcourt. . . .

 
At December 19, 2007 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Attagirl, Heather -- I'm really happy for your World Cafe gig (on my hometown station of XPN, no less -- two of my favorites together!) Like one of the other commenters, I'm mentioning it to many friends in a "name-dropping" kind of way.

Looking forward to your insightful writing and you introducing us to great new music in 2008. Keep an eye out for the new Drive-By Truckers album due out in February (even if it's too "twangy" for your taste) -- I've heard great things about it.

 
At December 21, 2007 12:09 AM, Blogger Pete K said...

Dude - excitedly happy for you. Excitedly is a lesser used word but it is a legit feeling of joy.

Well done.

 
At December 22, 2007 11:38 PM, Anonymous Miss_Zabone said...

I think you are totally on-point with most of your musical opinions. With that being said, I think there were a lot of really solid female artists' albums that dropped in 2007 too. Take, for example, Brandi Carlile's The Story. Definitely one of the best of '07 for me.

Thanks for the great list. Ike Reilly is SOOOO good. I was glad to see him included.

 
At December 23, 2007 9:38 AM, Blogger heather said...

Yes, Miss Zabone, the Brandi Carlile album was very good as well. Love her.

 
At December 30, 2007 5:49 PM, Anonymous rob said...

heard your talk with David this AM early on WFUV in ny ...Congrats , nice job . BTW radio head is worth a listen!

 
At January 01, 2008 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, heard your piece on the radio and was hooked on your choices, spent the next day looking for Heaven from The Swimmers online! can't wait for the album to come out! thanks for your great ears : )

 
At January 02, 2008 8:41 AM, Anonymous dwymer7003 said...

nice list Heather! congrats on the NPR gig too.

a special request...can you rank your list from 1-10? tough to do, but essential..heh.

you ranked M Ward #1 last year and Pearl Jam #2 last year I think.

 
At January 02, 2008 8:59 AM, Blogger heather said...

Dan, thanks! I had fun with it and we all got a kick listening yesterday (once I found the stream). And no, I can't rank em this year. The difference between favorite albums in a top ten is so slight, practically given the day or the mood, they could rearrange themselves. So these ten are the closest we get. :)

 

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